The dissension within

20 Apr, 2014


KHAN Said alias Sajna and Shehryar Mehsud, both from the Mehsud Taliban fighters, continue to engage in a bloodbath for turf and kitty. According to first-hand reports, dozens of fighters, mainly from the Shehryar group, died in the recent infighting which started in South Waziristan and expanded to North Waziristan.

Though there’s a lull now, the acrimony continues. An application has been submitted by the Taliban Shura to TTP emir Mullah Fazlullah to decide who will hold the reins of Waziristan’s Mehsud fighters. Previously, infighting among various Taliban factions would be settled by the Haqqanis, who, this time appear to have distanced themselves.

What patterns will emerge from the tussle at a crucial time when it is apparent that the TTP leadership has gained the upper hand, has almost achieved political legitimacy and received enormous space in the media to put forward its agenda? What will be the impact on the ‘dialogue’ with the government?

The first pattern that appears from the present and previous infighting indicates the impact of the militant discourse on the very outfit that constructed and perpetuated it. A difference of opinion in the ‘Sharia’ paradigm is interpreted as enough to be labelled an enemy and deserving of elimination.

The militant discourse stresses absolutism. In this paradigm, there can be only a single ‘right’ and ‘true’ interpretation of reality. Hence, any person who differs with the perceived ‘right’ interpretation is dubbed a ‘munafiq’ or ‘spy’. This kind of mindset repudiates any meaningful and effective institutional structure and hinges on individual power. By extension, the outfits appear in need of a powerful ‘khalifa’ and not institutional decision-making.

The second pattern that emerges from past and present infighting establishes the correlation of power and extremist violence in Pakistan. Power in this case also entails huge resources that come with it. Due to the militants’ social control, the more ambitious among them have to establish control over the group to be the absolute emir. This seems natural and logical.

Another pattern pertains to the networking of the TTP, Haqqanis and Al Qaeda. Khan Said is reportedly closely linked with the Haqqanis, more than Shehryar or Fazlullah. On the other hand, Shehryar and Fazlullah network more with Al Qaeda and the Punjabi Taliban. The latter factor seems to originate from the clerics of Islamabad’s Lal Masjid. Fazlullah is known to have publicly claimed allegiance to the late Abdul Rashid of Lal Masjid.

Al Qaeda commanders are known to have close liaisons with the Fazlullah faction of TTP, the Punjabi Taliban, Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and the Jamaatud Dawa. How comfortable Fazlullah, Khalid Haqqani, Omar Khorasani and Shehryar are with Al Qaeda, LJ and JuD, more than with the Haqqanis, can easily be surmised.

One can hypothesise if those commanders who are comfortable with the Fazlullah faction of the TTP gain control of it, then the hard-core Al Qaeda mission may dominate the TTP rank and file. In that case, which seems likely, the TTP would strengthen networking with the international jihadist network in terms of discourse and strategy.

The governments and security establishments of both Pakistan and Afghanistan might then expect only a tactical retreat by the TTP and its networking partners in the shape of a semblance of dialogue. The end of the ceasefire must be seen in this context. The network might in all probability see an increase in kidnappings for ransom, occupation of coal mines and forests and militants taking control of other natural resources to expand the resource base for a long war. Targeted killings are already focusing on opinion-makers, scholars and political workers

The militant network might strengthen its alliance with the timber mafia, drug traffickers and human traffickers in the near future to expand supply lines. The network might also increase targeted killing of their opponents. This all is probable if Fazlullah is to gain absolute control within the TTP rank and file.

The end of the ceasefire and Fazlullah’s control of the TTP might specifically see in Upper Waziristan, Lower Kurram, Orakzai, Upper Khyber, Mohmand, Bajaur and Malakand Division a resurgence of militant activities if sleeper cells in these areas are activated. It is likely that militant activities might increase in Kandahar, Helmand, Nimroz and Farah in southern Afghanistan and Kunar and Nuristan in eastern Afghanistan where the hard-core sleeper cells of the international jihadist network are regularly reported.

Keeping in view this scenario, both Pakistan and Afghanistan need to look into the details of their strategic moves. It is advisable for the governments and security establishments of both countries to find a way out of strategic conflicts between them.

The writer is a political analyst based in Peshawar.